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Council updated on Tuolumne River Regional Park
Nathan Houx gave the Ceres City Council an update on Tuolumne River Regional Park activities. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Work is plodding along on developing the Tuolumne River Regional Park, of which the city of Ceres is a member of the Joint Powers Authority overseeing it. Last week Nathan Houx, the city of Modesto's Parks Planning and Development manager and the JPA's administrator, gave an update to the Ceres City Council last week.

Houx said the goal is to build the park into a "destination facility" that has facilities to generate revenue.

"We believe that the regional park can be a destination, it hasn't been in the past necessarily," said Houx, "but we believe it can in the future."

To maintain the park in a fiscally responsible manner, Houx said the park has generated many volunteers to help out. Volunteers have assisted in Operation 9-29-99 to reclaim, rehabilitate, and restore the area along the Tuolumne River in Modesto from the Ninth Street Bridge to Highway 99 by removing trash, tires, shopping carts, and abandoned camps in order to return this blighted area to a public space and riparian river habitat. The effort has been spearheaded by Davis High School teacher Chris Guptill and with the help of 1,658 volunteers has resulted in the collection of 760 waste tires, 740 shopping carts and 276 tons of garbage.

"So he has done an amazing job of cleaning up pretty much the whole seven-miles of river," said Houx

The park starts at Mitchell Road to past Carpenter Road and includes over 500 acres. It is governed by a JPA consisting of Stanislaus County and the cities of Ceres and Modesto.

Houx updated the council on the Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway Project which is the north side of the river between Dry Creek and Highway 99. The work has included habitat restoration and trail building. Phase 2 construction of trails and a backwater channel has been delayed because of the swollen river.

A river overlook will be designed and constructed to allow the public to get near the river without damaging the habitat. A grant is paying for the project.

One of the key projects toward restoration is the removal of the remnants of Dennett Dam put in place in 1933 downstream of the Ninth Street Bridge to create what was to be Lake Modesto. The Tuolumne River Trust is partnering to design plans to remove the plan and funding all permits. The project is fully funded by grant funds and plans are to have the dam gone by late summer - if the water level drops.

"The benefit of getting that out is it will encourage boating activities on the river, which obviously will help all facilities along the Tuolumne River," said Houx. "It will also encourage fish habitat in the river. Right now the salmon have a hard time going upstream. With that dam out of the way they basically can go all the way up to La Grange Dam without any barriers."

The JPA has also applied for a grant to build a boat launching facility by Neece Drive by John Thurman Field and Dryden Golf Course.

"It's an important piece of that puzzle of getting people boating on the river."

The Stanislaus Youth Soccer League is looking to build soccer fields in the park, one of which is at the county's Bellenita Park west of Highway 99. The idea is to start playing this fall on two fields started with the building of three more fields.

Houx highlighted a not-so-exciting project to trim and remove some trees near the Modesto Airport runways to comply with FAA regulations. The project is occurring in phases over five years.

"The trees are growing up too high and so some of them need to be cut down and some of them need to be trimmed and the maintenance hasn't been done over the past 15 to 20 years but that needs to be done."

Phase 1 of removing and/or trimming 240 trees has been interrupted by flood waters with 40 trees remaining for work.

To mitigate the loss of trees, the JPA must plant 1,000 replacement trees in other areas of the park.

Other park needs include the renovation of Mancini Park on Ceres' side of the river, as well as Bellenita Park on the north side. The American Legion Hall needs a new roof, a renovated kitchen and restrooms need to be made ADA compliant. Parking lots at some facilities also need to be resurfaced.

Houx said the JPA wants to improve Legion Park for nature educational tours.

"We think that's going to help educate the next generation to protect and preserve the river," said Houx.

The goal is to connect all the various pieces of land along the river into a long trail where people may bike, run or walk. Part of that will involve a pedestrian bridge over Dry Creek.